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2011 Chrysler 300 First Drive: Proud to Be an American Car

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author photo by Autotrader February 2011

No doubt about it, the 2011 Chrysler 300 looks like an American car. Whatever design cues, proportions or other visual signals that make a car look American as opposed to Asian or European, the heavily revised 300 sedan has them. It has that air of a machine built by a superpower, albeit a superpower that has seen its fair share of fuel price crises and bank-imploding economic setbacks.

Perhaps the story of Chrysler – a once-glorious but beleaguered marque, now set for a Rocky-style comeback – is, in a sense, the story of the United States as a whole. Coming back fighting after being up against the ropes. If that’s the case, then the new 300 is one heck of a right hook.

The previous model had a strong presence. To change the looks while still keeping its admirers happy was a task that could have easily been mishandled, like messing with Superman’s costume. The attitude now is less brash than the earlier 300, more modern yet more mature at the same time. And it centers on the grille.

First impressions are that this tough guy has become more in touch with his feminine side, but live with the car for even a few hours and the grille begins to look right, statesmanlike yet understated. It is complemented on either side by headlights with currently fashionable LEDs (think Audi).

Visibility used to be an issue, but the new 300’s windshield is bigger and raked at more of an angle, so there’s no more craning when looking at overhead traffic lights. The beltline along the side isn’t hitched up so high either, making for a larger glass area.

Perhaps the thing that says “contemporary Americana” most of all, though, is the tail. Those vertical rear lights are each crowned by something that could almost be described as a fin.

Even greater changes are found in the hushed cabin (described by Chrysler as “a huge step forward”), which uses classier-looking materials formed into pleasing shapes. What’s more, the seats are comfortable enough for long drives, while the perforated leather – found in the upper trim levels – feels rich. The navigation function enjoys a nice big screen with excellent graphics and the system (from Garmin) is easy to use.

As for the wood-and-leather steering wheel, it might take some getting used to, it’s pretty thick. There’s also the option of having it heated, along with the seats both front and rear (the fronts may also be ventilated).

Engines and suspensions are other deciding factors in favor of a road trip. Chrysler’s much-praised 3.6-liter V6 makes 292 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Under this particular hood, it’s pretty good, but struggles somewhat with the car’s hefty 4,000-pound (or so) curb weight. Although it still returns 18 mpg (city) and 27 mpg (highway).

If consumption figures of 16 and 25 mpg (city/highway), are acceptable, the 363-hp, 394-lb-ft, 5.7-liter V8 (of the 300C) is a much better driving partner, more able to exploit the talents of this rear-drive chassis setup. An all-wheel drive system is also available, one of the most technologically advanced, according to Chrysler. The growl of a big V8 is practically an alternative anthem to the “Star Spangled Banner” anyway.

One thing to watch for on the ride side: exercising the option of 20-inch wheels will fill out the wheel arches and make the 300 look super-cool, but they do bring with them a tauter sports suspension and also a less pliant demeanor because of the tires’ thinner sidewalls. Eighteen-inch wheels will be preferable for those who value pampering over poise.

As part of Chrysler’s renewed product onslaught, the 300 is the flagship, the car that really represents the best the marque can offer. This new model is worthy of that position. The entry level version starts at $27,995 and has a power-adjustable driver’s seat and keyless entry. The company claims to have more content at each trim level than the competition – cars like the Ford Fusion, Toyota Avalon and Buick LaCrosse. There are also “Safety Tec” and “Luxury” packages on offer.

Yes, the 2011 Chrysler 300 is still based on the previous generation of Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but the platform has been developed and modified to a huge degree. Not much has been carried over from the last 300 in general. And let’s face it, many great Americans have come from immigrant stock.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2011 Chrysler 300 First Drive: Proud to Be an American Car - Autotrader